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Winter sports with kids: the low down on gearing up

Published on: November 13, 2009

(Related stories: tubing at Snoqualmie and family snowshoeing)

I have fond memories of spending family time as a child skiing in big,
big snow and sub-zero weather. How we all made it through each
expedition with frozen smiles mostly intact is a true testimony to my
parents' thoughtfulness and prep work.

When my own kids were old enough to hit the hills, I took stock of my
childhood experiences. Like my dad, I had become a ski instructor. But
when I tried to teach our kids, the line between caretaker/comforter
and teacher/instructor confused and frustrated them -- and me. Where I
had had success with other children, my kids weren't buying my
suggestions. It became apparent that teaching them was straining our

I started investigating the local ski areas and schools to find a good
match for our family. After some research, we found great opportunities
that fit our needs. This year, we're putting our daughter in a racing
program and finally allowing our son to take snowboard lessons.

Local resources will constantly change, as do the needs of each family,
but here are some tips and simple how-to's we've found to be helpful
starting points for any winter sports adventure.

The universal truth about families who love winter sports? They have
fun outside. And to make sure they have fun, they follow a few basic

They dress for success. Dress in layers beginning with long underwear
and socks made of "wicking material" or wool -- NOT cotton. (Cotton
keeps moisture next to the skin; at the least making you uncomfortable
and at the worst setting the stage for hypothermia.) The final layer
should be water-resistant but breathable.

I recommend mittens with leather pads over gloves since mittens keep
small fingers cozy and warm. Helmets are optional, but the safety of
headgear outweighs the initial expense. And everyone should wear eye
protection. Best bets: goggles that don't fog-up and impede vision.
It's a good idea to bring extra mittens and socks if you're planning to
be out all day.

They set their kids up with the right equipment. This means they go to
a reputable ski and outdoor sports equipment shop, or they rent
directly from a resort. Many local shops offer families special deals.
Look in the telephone directory for trade-in packages for growing kids.
Based on the frequency of your outings, ask each shop what their
cost-difference would be between renting and owning. Simple research
before committing to a package will help you from feeling pressured
into something you don't need.

If you decide to buy, look for pre-season ski fairs and consignment
shops offering quality used and previous-season equipment. My big pet
peeve: Retailers who are more interested in telling you about their
extreme sports finesse rather than outfitting you and your family.

They come prepared. Families who do a little prep work to make their
kids comfortable and happy before they venture out are more likely to
have a good time. Make sure everyone starts their day with a good
breakfast. Cover any exposed skin with waterproof sunscreen. (Snow
reflects harmful sun rays up, resulting in surprising sunburns under
chins, noses and ears.) Make everyone hit the bathroom before hitting
the hill. And, to avoid long cafeteria lines and steep prices, pack
snacks and a lunch that your family will enjoy.

Follow these tips if you're sending a child to a lesson, whether it's
downhill skiing, cross country or snowboarding:

  • Be on time to
    the lessons. Help your kids (and their instructor) by getting to
    lessons on time. Remember that you'll need time to park, lug in
    supplies and equipment, get the resort pass and find your destination.
    If you plan on this extra time, you will all experience less stress and
    your kids will be more likely to try new skills.
  • Advocate
    for your children. You know your kids and how they pick up something
    new. Tell the instructor a little about their personal learning style
    so he or she can think of strategies to make their lesson a success.
    Some kids are visual learners -- they need to see what they're going to
    learn. Others pick up new skills that have been described to them --
    they listen for information. And still other kids are kinesthetic
    learners -- they're more likely to understand by doing, feeling or
    trying something. Good instructors will introduce a new skill in
    several different ways to make sure each child gets the concept.
  • Listen
    to your kids. People can experience and feel the same things in vastly
    different ways. Hypothermia, a life-threatening condition, can affect
    some people in 50F-degree weather. So, if a child says he's cold and
    needs to warm up, listen to him and take a break until he's warm again.
    It can be easy to forget the goal was to have fun after you've invested
    time and money in gearing up for a day on the snow. You'll get the
    biggest reward from your kids if they ask at the end of the day, "When
    can we come back?"

Tracy Romoser
is a Seattle writer and former ski instructor. During most winter
weekends at Alpental, you'll hear her yelling after her own kids to
"Slow Down!"

Ski school resources

you're looking at arranging private or group lessons, you might find
the best solution is to go with a local ski or boarding school. Some
schools even offer Nordic lessons (what we used to call "cross

Remember to do your
homework, and contact several schools to find the one that best fits
the needs of your family. If it seems overwhelming, consider calling
the Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA) at 206-244-8541 for
advice on selecting the right school.

Recommended schools

Fiorini Ski School
Fiorini lesson packages include bus transportation from Seattle to the
Summit at Snoqualmie. A bit pricey for some, but the instructors are

Powderpigs Ltd Ski School
Offers classes from preschool on up at the Summit at Snoqualmie Central
location. Also offers a midweek homeschool and preschool class
schedule. Very thorough and child-centered program with low turnover in

Ski Masters Ski School

Ski Masters offers classes at Stevens, Summit at Snoqualmie and Crystal. Popular with many skiers.

Accessible lessons for special needs
The following two organizations focus on accessible ski lessons for
kids who have special needs. Some of the larger resorts, like Crystal
Mountain and Whistler/Blackcomb, also offer accessible ski lessons.

Ski for All Ski School
Contact: John Stevenson

Ski for Light: Guided skiing programs for the visually impaired organized by Sons of Norway.
Contact: Maida Pojtinger

Family friendly ski resorts
We live in one of the best areas of the world for winter fun. And to
prove it, here's a list of family friendly resorts. Many offer a full
slate of services like child care for those too small to hit the slopes
with the bigger kids, nearby or on-hill lodging, and downhill, Nordic
and snowboarding lessons. Call ahead to make sure they have the
features you need for all your family members.

Crystal Mountain-Enumclaw, WA
(Provides a highly recommended ski instruction program on site and also
offers accessible ski lessons for kids with disabilities.)

Stevens Pass-Skykomish, WA

Summit at Snoqualmie Pass, WA

(Includes Alpental, which offers Mini and Mighty Mites instruction for
kids, Summit West, Central and Hyak. Also has a tubing area).

Mission Ridge-Wenatchee, WA

Mount Baker-Bellingham, WA


White Pass, WA

Mount Hood-Government Camp, OR

Timberline Ski Area & Lodge-Portland, OR
503-622-7979/Hotel only: 800-547-1406

Whistler Blackcomb - B.C., Canada
800-766-0449 or 604-932-4211

Silver Star Mountain Resort - B.C., Canada


Alpine West Ski School

Cascade Ski School

Chief Kitsap Snowsport School

Clancy's Ski School

Edmonds Ski School

John Mohan Skiing & Boarding

Olympic Ski School

The Outing Club Ski School

Rokka Ski School

Ski King Inc Ski School

Ski Klasses Inc Ski School

Webb Ski Enterprises Ski School



Originally published in the December, 2005 print edition of ParentMap.

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